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October 15, 2012

Dishonored is an amazing game.  The immersive setting and varied play style have drawn me in completely.  And yet…

Early in the game I was skulking my way through a mad scientist’s lair when I stumbled upon two characters – male and female – who were servants of the house.  The man noticed me, drew his sword, and squared off against me.  The woman clutched her head in a panic and fled.  In fact, I quickly realized that this was a hard and fast rule of the game – men fight, women run.

Pervasive sexism is the order of the day for Dishonored.  The few female characters are children needing to be rescued, an empress who is murdered to provide my character with motivation, a few maids I can leer at in the bath, and a gaggle of faceless prostitutes.*

This is not a sexism that comes from malice, but from laziness. I’m sure it never occurred to the developers and writers that some, perhaps even half, of their guards could be female.  When designing locations for the game they never thought past “whorehouse.” Perhaps they even intended a gesture of inclusiveness in the fact that the murdered leader is female, never giving a thought to the grand tradition of women in refrigerators (

But this is how sexism works.  Misogynists are not mustache twirling villains   They are men and women who don’t notice, don’t think, and don’t care.

Dishonored is far from the only video game that is populated by weak and sexualized female characters.  Sexism is a fundamental fact of the majority of media that we consume; not just video games, but board games, movies, music, books… the list goes on.  Its so easy for the writers, illustrators, designers, directors and, yes, consumers of these media to simply not see the sexism that is plainly there.

But I can’t not see it, at least in this case.  And yet…. Dishonored is the best game I’ve played this year.  If only it was not so flawed.  If only our society was not so flawed.


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